The Shipping News (Cert 15)

by ALEXANDER WALKER, Evening Standard

The place is Killick-Claw, Newfoundland. The time, fairly recently. The town's oldest estate agent is in full spate.

'STORM'S gone down. That crash y'all heard, that was the Quoyle place gettin' blew over the cliff. Seems Nolan, the crazy Quoyle cousin, undid the knots holdin' the ropes anchorin' the house. Well, as we say in the realty business, when one house goes with the wind in this fishin' port, it just leaves a big beautiful space for more. Accident prone, we certainly are. Folks that come here damaged, get damaged more.

That other young Quoyle - don't seem ever to have heard his first name - had a wife back in Poughkeepsie, a tartedup dame name of Petal, who split from a guy, grabbed Quoyle an' had him bedded, wedded, deserted an' widdered - all inside what seems like 10 minutes. Drowned in a car accident, Petal did.

Quoyle had hardly gotten the news when he heard his daddy an' mammy had killed theyselves. Dunno why. Didn't ever ask. Round these parts, we take folks as we find 'em -dead, usually. Came out later, when Daddy Quoyle was a teenager he'd raped his kid sister Agnis - on the ice on the pond, too - an' fathered her child.

We get our problems, too, in Killick-Claw. Every week The Gammy Bird, that's the local rag, runs a front-page picture of a car crash. Jack Buggit, what owns it, says bad news sells papers. We always lay in a stock of bad news in our town. Helps pass the winter.

Anyways, I'm ahead of meself. Young Quoyle hisself was nearly drownded as a kid. His daddy kept pushin' him under water to make a man out of him. So when he come to Newfoundland, he was one sorrylookin' character.

Couldn't abide water, an' there's a damn lot of it in the lives of folks round these parts. More wet, you couldn't wish for, or so we boast. But Quoyle, he couldn't look at the stuff without feelin' he was drownin' again.

Took a job on The Gammy Bird, reportin' the shippin' news an' the weekly car crash, which kept on remindin' him of Petal. It's kind of i-ron-ic - as we'd say, if we was better educated - that Quoyle's always runnin' slap-bang up against the things he's runnin' away from. Thank God his Aunt Agnis - she'd aborted her baby, by the by - kept him sane.

Then he meets Wavey Prowse - we all got picturesque names round these parts - walkin' along the road with her braindamaged son.

Wavey runs the single-parent day-centre round here. Soon they're both eatin' cow-heel pie somewhat affectionately in the diner, and he's getting big by-lines with this news story about the headless body he finds a-bobbin' in the bay -though he nearly drowns hisself again, just gettin' the facts.

Things are lookin' up for Quoyle. He's gettin' his own computer at the newspaper, and the other reporters, Beaufield Nutbeem an' Billy Pretty, are lookin' at his spellin' with new respect. An' even his one enemy, Tert Card, who everyone calls "Turd", is bitin' his tongue off with jealousy.

But instead of settlin' down in town an' passin' the time lookin' at the babies an' guessin' who's the father, Quoyle has to go pokin' round this cemetery. I grant you, you don't get far in Killick-Claw without passin' a gravestone.

A whole heap of family history spills out. Back in the 19th century his clan was pirates an' murderers, wreckin' ships on the rocks, lootin' 'em, rapin' the wimminfolk, even conceivin' by them. In them days, the Quoyles must have had more "get up an' go" about them. But for some reason I can't rightly fathom, this news devastates Quoyle. "They're me," he says: which is plumb crazy.

I won't finish the story for you, since they've already made it into a film an' called it by a fancy title, The Shipping News, out of a book by some woman named Annie Proulx, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

She used to write stories about homo-sex-ual cowboys, I'm told, which is what gets you a cult followin' in some places. What you'd expect of certain wimmin these days, always cuttin' their menfolk down to size or havin' them showin' their feelin's.

Not that Mr Kevin Spacey, who they've cast as Quoyle, does that kind of nonsense. Or much else. Always sweatin' an' whinin' an' sad lookin' an' wonderin' if a broken man like him can ever heal. Passive, you'd call him, if you were kind. Everything happens to him, but nuthin' changes him much - like in them afternoon soap-operas on the TV.

He's left gaspin' for air after that Cate Blanchett, who plays his wife Petal like a mare with a burr up her backside, quits the story early.

Now Miss Judi Dench, as his Aunt Agnis, she shows far more spunk. She made an old-timer like me think of Miss Kate Hepburn. When Miss Dench empties the ashes of her brother - the one that raped her - out of the urn and down the privy, then uses it, that's the kind of actin' that folks around these parts really appreciate. Maybe our town should declare a "Judi Dench Day". She seems to have had every other honour goin' I hear tell, bar a postage stamp.

Miss Julianne Moore's Wavey Prowse does hardly more than look gentle an' sensitive an' motherly, though she tells us she sunk her husband's boat when he deserted her and made out he'd drownded. We men just have to thank God love acts as a kind of anger management for these wimmin in Miss Proulx's stories. Otherwise, we'd all be floatin' headless.

What I liked best in the film were The Gammy Bird's good ole boys in the reporters' room, played by Scott Glenn an' Rhys Ifans an' Gordon Pinsent an' even Peter Posthlethwaite as "Turd". Now they look my kind. Always firin' off at each other, like the folk in Popeye.

Mr Lasse Hallstrom came to our town an' filmed it all in bad weather. We objected, of course, Mr Hallstrom's last film, Chocolat, did nothin' but good for tourism in France an' the market in second homes. Mind you, houses like the Quoyle place that have to be held down by cables are a hard sell in any market. But just you come back here when the partridge berries are out an' all this lit'ry lady's rigmaroll about bad blood an' wuss weather has been forgot.

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